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The Tippling Point | Capable of Making You Pinch Your Nose, How This Wine Helps Gulp Down Iceland's Fave Shark Delicacy

Representative Image (Photo courtesy: AFP )

Representative Image (Photo courtesy: AFP )

Brennevin is schnapps distilled from potato mash and caraway seeds. It refers back to Russian vodka, but the characteristic tang of exotic ingredients takes it to a league of its own.

News18 Tippling Point You go to bed listening to the torrential rain raging outside. You wake up next morning to a crystal clear sky says that it hasn't seen a single rain cloud for years. You move on only to be greeted by another spell of sudden gale or snowstorm.

The weather can't be theatrical anywhere else in the world, a visitor to Iceland, that Nordic Island country in Northern Atlantic would swear.

On the street, you'd be curious as you catch men walking warily, stork-like, raising one step only after the other gets a firm footing on the ground, for they know how the slippery sleet on the ground could upset a day's plan. You'd die for something to wet your whistle against the frigid winds blowing in. Walk into a bar. Watch your steps!

Iceland wets its cockles with Brennivin a unique drink people have been drinking for centuries. Perhaps the tradition goes back to the Viking days.

Brennevin is 'burning wine' in English. The drink is more popular by the name, 'black death.' Why such a gross name, you wonder! Well, there were those days when the Government couldn't tolerate its people drowning themselves in schnapps. A repulsive name could deter the Icelanders, they reasoned. As a starter. They even made it mandatory to stick a black label adorned with a big skull to the bottle to scare away its users. All in vain.

Brennevin is schnapps distilled from potato mash and caraway seeds. It refers back to Russian vodka, but the characteristic tang of exotic ingredients takes it to a league of its own.

Icelanders often drink it to wash down their favourite delicacy - Hákarl, fermented shark.

Taken fresh, the shark found in the Atlantic is poisonous. So Icelanders wait patiently for nearly six months to get the flesh cured in pits they make for the purpose. Don't assume you'd stand the stench of the meat even after all this curing. First-timers are advised to pinch their nose as they help the cubes into their mouth. The strong presence of ammonia will make you retch and you'd also like the locals reach for a bottle of brennevin to wash the liquid stench down the pipe.

The dominant flavour of the spirit is caraway, though brennevin takes other spices as well.

Traditionally people drink it straight up from a shot glass. If you're the type who wants to fight the cold weather with a cold drink, throw in a few cubes of ice to the tall glass from which you'd be sipping your brennevin. Some even take its stiffness out with Coke or tonic water.

Anyway, be warned, brennevin is an acquired taste.

Seen today as a patriotic drink, locals drink Brennevin especially on St. Thorlac’s Day in honour of the patron saint of Iceland. As a tourist to the island country, you have two options. Either you buy it home as a souvenir or sip it from Iceland itself as you relaxedly sprawl on some bed watching the sky as it throws for your eyes, one of the greatest feasts on earth - aurora borealis.

(Manu Remakant is a freelance writer who also runs a video blog - A Cup of Kavitha - introducing world poetry to Malayalees. Views expressed here are personal)
first published:April 19, 2020, 14:21 IST